For many years philodendron has been a popular interior plant. Its rich, green foliage is a great way to add color and interest to your home. An easy to care for plant, whether you are an experienced gardener or completely new to the hobby, philodendron is a great place to start.
Did you know that the name philodendron is derived from the Greek language? Philo means to love or loving and dendron which means tree.
The philodendron is native to the tropical regions of the Americas. Gardeners in the warmest USDA zones can grow the plant outside. For the rest of us, the philodendron is best grown as a houseplant or as part of a living wall.
A pleasingly easy to cultivate plant, philodendrons are prized for their versatility and attractive foliage.
Philodendron happily grows indoors. However, during the warmest parts of the year it will benefit from some time outside. A sheltered, shady spot on a balcony or patio is ideal. Unlike more sensitive houseplants, philodendrons are unbothered by an occasional change in position.
Warning Philodendron foliage and stems are high in calcium oxalate. This can be toxic to animals and humans when eaten.
- If ingested, calcium oxalate can cause swelling or burning in your throat, lips, or mouth. It can cause vomiting, nausea, difficulty breathing, and difficulty swallowing. Juices from this plant can irritate your skin if you have sensitive skin, and it can cause inflammation, itchiness, and redness. You should wear gloves while making cuttings, and your plants should be well out of reach of pets or children. Seek medical attention if you ingest any part of the plant.
What Is a Philodendron?
This plant is one of the largest genera in the Acaceae family, but it has physical characteristics that vary from species to species. The leaf size and shape will vary, as will the foliage color, growth habit, and the mature size.
Some of the common traits all philodendrons have in common is that they have lobed and imposing leaves, parallel leaf veins, long aerial roots, and leaves that will change as they grow.
The leaves will emerge in a pretty heart shape as a seedling. As the plant starts to mature, they take on a range of shapes from lily pads or hearts to arrowheads or very deeply lobed foliage with slits or holes.
The name is Greek, and it comes from the word philo that means affection or love and dendron that means tree. This is an excellent description of most of these plants in the genus because they’re climbing plants or vines that like to grow up or on trees.
When they grow wild, this plant can easily engulf whole trees. They don’t get nearly so prolific indoors, so they won’t take over your other plants.
Cultivation and History
This plant was first introduced by a French botanist named Charles Plumier to Europe in 1693. During the 17th and 18th century, expeditions to the New World tropics became very common, and this led to the discovery of more and more species of this plant.
An Austrian botanist named Heinrich Schott identified and described 139 species by 1860, and there are almost 500 known species today. You can generally categorize the growth patterns of these plants into three broad categories, including:
- Epiphytic – Grows on other plants
- Hemiepiphyte – Grows on other plants and in the soil
- Terrestrial – Grows in the soil
Epiphytic plants usually grow on a plant while absorbing nutrients and moisture from the rain, air, and surrounding debris. They can easily engulf trees and shade them out, but they don’t usually harm the host plant.
Terrestrial plants grow in the soil, so they’re probably the types that you’re most familiar with. Hemiepiphyte plants split the life cycle between being a terrestrial plant and an epiphyte plant.
Any species with this growth pattern can get broken down even further into primary and secondary categories. The primary hemiepiphyte drops seeds from the canopy, or animals and birds help.
They latch onto trees as they germinate, and it eventually sends out roots as it grows larger that go toward the forest floor to reach the soil to absorb nutrients and moisture. Secondary hemiepiphytes start as a rooted vine and stretch toward the canopy using a host tree.
Some species can detach later on from the ground to finish off the life cycle as a full epiphyte. It’s also important to note that philodendrons usually survive when they fall off their host, unlike almost any other epiphyte.
This plant is unusually stubborn and tough, and they can root right into the soil after they fall. Another option is for them to grasp onto another host plant or get back on the original one and start climbing upwards again.
A member of the Araceae family, philodendron is often confused with pothos. This is because both plants produce similar shaped foliage. The key difference between the two is that pothos is a smaller plant than philodendron. In fact pothos is often sold as a hanging basket plant. Additionally, pothos foliage is often variegated with noticeable yellow or white patches.
There are two main types of philodendron: vining and non-vining or self heading.
Vining philodendrons include varieties such as Blushing and the popular Heartleaf. As the name suggests these plants vine or climb. This means that you need to provide some form of support such as a trellis. The heartleaf cultivar is particularly popular for its heart shaped foliage. A low maintenance option heartleaf, like other varieties, can also be grown in moss or water.
Erubescens is another popular climbing variety that produces attractive red stems and foliage. For something truly eye catching, try Melanochrysum. This variety produces attractive dark, velvety foliage with a bronze shade.
It is the foliage of these plants that provides the primary interest. Both vining and non-vining varieties have a range of different, patterned cultivars.
Self-heading or non-vining philodendrons include the Bird’s Nest and Lacy Tree varieties. These have an upright, spreading growth habit. Their spread can often be twice as wide as the plant is tall.
Some varieties such as P. bipinnatifidum, or Tree Philodendron, can reach a height of 8 ft and produce foliage about 3 ft in size. Make sure you have enough room in your home before you purchase.
For a smaller plant try Rojo. This is a small, self-heading hybrid that has a pleasing, compact growth habit.
One of the most reliable varieties is the Sweetheart Plant (Philodendron Scandens). This variety is also ideally suited to indoor growth.
When selecting your plant take the time to find a variety that fits into your growing space. Bear in mind that varieties with velvety foliage are less tolerant of bright light positions.
Potting and Repotting
Depending on the variety you select, philodendron plants can be incredibly quick growing. Climbing varieties have an especially fast growth habit. Pinching out new growth helps to keep the plant to a manageable size.
A consequence of their rapid growth habit, climbing philodendron varieties require repotting once a year. This prevents the plants from becoming potbound. Self-heading varieties are slower to grow and can be repotted as needed.
The most obvious sign that the plant requires re-potting is when roots begin to emerge from the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Growth may also slow and the soil may dry out more quickly.
What Soil Should I Use?
A loose, well draining potting soil rich in nutrients and organic matter is ideal. A fresh, general purpose compost or soil mix is best. To further enrich the soil, work in homemade compost or other organic matter before planting. You can also grow the plants in sphagnum peat moss.
Always use fresh or sterile potting material. This reduces the risk of soil borne diseases attacking your plants.
How to Plant
Carefully remove the plant from its container. Squeeze the container gently to loosen the soil. This allows you to easily remove the plant without damaging the roots.
Your new container should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. It should be one size, or two inches wider and deeper, than the old container. Don’t plant in an overly large container. Philodendron likes to sit in compact conditions. If you want a truly low maintenance option, try planting in a self-watering container.
Fill the new container about a third full with fresh soil.
Center the plant in the container. The top of the root system should sit just below the top of the container. When you are happy with the position of the plant, fill the container with more fresh soil and gently firm down. Water the plant well before returning it to its usual position.
How to Care for Philodendron
Hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11 philodendron plants are commonly grown indoors.
Native to the tropical regions, philodendron grows best in warm, bright, humid positions. Once you find the right position for your philodendron, care is pleasingly easy.
A position near a window where the plant can receive lots of bright, indirect light is ideal. Try to find a position where the rays of the sun won’t directly contact the foliage of the plant. This can cause sunburn or scorching. Yellowing foliage, while common in older leaves, can be a sign that the plant is receiving too much light.
Dappled light, similar to the tropical canopy, is ideal. Placing blinds or net curtains in a window can recreate this effect.
A philodendron becoming leggy is a sign that the plant is not receiving enough light. If you struggle to provide enough natural light, grow lights are a great solution.
If you are growing a climbing variety regularly push any aerial roots back into the soil.
Knowing how often to water houseplants can be difficult. Philodendron plants like the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
The easiest way to gauge the condition of the soil is to stick your index finger into the container. If the soil is dry to the first knuckle then it is time to water the plant.
A soil moisture gauge provides a more accurate measure of your soil condition. The Atree Soil pH Meter allows you to not only measure the moisture content of your soil but also the pH levels of the soil and how much sunlight the plant is receiving. This is particularly useful for indoor plants.
If the foliage begins to droop it is a sign that the plant is getting too much or not enough water. The plant quickly recovers once you have amended your watering routine.
Apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro Indoor Plant Food, once a month during the spring and summer. A liquid fertilizer can be easily incorporated into your watering routine. During the fall and winter this regularity can be reduced to one feed every 6 to 8 weeks.
If the plant is slow to grow, or the foliage seems small, it is a sign that the plant requires more fertilizer. Pale foliage is an indication that the plant is lacking in either magnesium or calcium. These are both essential nutrients for healthy philodendron plants.
Alternatively slow release pellets can also be worked into the soil at the start of the growing season. This provides the plants with a constant supply of nutrients during the spring and summer months.
Temperature and Humidity
Philodendrons dislike prolonged exposure to temperatures below 55 ℉. The plants thrive in humidity. Placing a humidifier nearby helps to maintain humidity levels.
Alternatively try placing the plants on a humidity tray. This helps to maintain humidity levels. If you don’t have a humidity tray you can easily make your own. To do this, fill a saucer with pebbles and water. Place the container on the pebbles, making sure that the container isn’t contacting the water. Prolonged contact with water can cause the plants to develop root rot. Remember to regularly refill the saucer as the water evaporates.
Regularly misting plants can also help to maintain humidity levels. However, compared to using a humidifier or humidity tray, this is quite a high maintenance option. Misting needs to be done once every other day during the spring and summer. During the winter mist the plants once every three or four days.
Plants positioned correctly in warm, humid conditions produce rich, green foliage. If your plant seems pale, or is fading, it may be a sign that the plant isn’t entirely happy with its current situation.
Common Pests and Problems
Properly cared for, these plants are pleasingly problem free.
Houseplant pests such as aphids, scale, thrips, mealybugs and spider mites can all target the plants. Regularly check your plants for any sign of infestation. Wiping the foliage with either soapy water or neem oil removes most infestations.
Mealybugs can be removed with an application of rubbing alcohol rubbed onto the foliage with a cotton swab. Persistent or large infestations may need more than one course of treatment to fully cure the plant.
There are several things that can cause yellowing leaves on your philodendron, including not giving it enough sunlight, giving water that is far too cold, or putting your plant in an area that gets way too much bright sunlight.
If you notice that older weeds are getting yellow, you could be under-watering it. If the leaves that are younger and on the bottom are yellow, you could be giving it too much water. If you adjust these factors, your plant will come back.
If you choose to give your philodendron plant food, you should water your soil first. Then, add a watered down fertilizer before watering your plant again. This will help ensure that you don’t burn the plant’s roots and cause more yellowing.
Yellowing with a Rotting Smell
If the plant’s leaves go from a healthy green to an unhealthy yellow very quickly, root rot could be the cause. If you catch it early, you could save your plant. Smell the soil to see if there is a rotting odor or gently dig up the roots to see how healthy they are.
If you have root rot, you can cut away the mushy, black pieces that are dying and replant the healthy yellow or white root portions in a clean container. Add fresh soil to the pot.
Yellow Splotches or Patterning on Leaves
Maybe you noticed that you have yellow patterns or lesions on your plant’s leaves. If so, this can be a sign of the mosaic virus. You can help the plant defend itself better to help get rid of this virus.
If it’s warm outside, consider taking the plant outside for some natural, indirect sunlight. Keep the sick plant a minimum of two feet away from any other plants and trim away any badly impacted leaves.
Spray down the rest of your plant’s leaves to remove any dust from the surface. Apply a very diluted fertilizer that is nitrogen-rich to the plant’s soil to encourage it to grow back stronger.
If you notice brown edges on your plant, you could be accidentally shocking the plants by giving them water that is too cold. If the leaves start to get mushy and brown, it’s a sign that you’re watering it too much.
Brown leaf edges that also start to slowly curl inwards is a good indicator that your plant needs less sun and more water. If you make the correct adjustments, your plant can survive and come back.
Yellow halos with browning leaf tips can be a good indicator that your plant doesn’t have enough humidity. Try to mist the plant’s leaves or put it in a container on top of a small tray of pebbles and water to raise the relative humidity levels. Don’t submerge the planter and make sure it stays above the waterline.
How to Propagate
Climbing varieties can be propagated from stem cuttings.
With a sterile garden scissors, take a healthy cutting about 4 inches long. Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end in rooting hormone. While not strictly necessary, cuttings can be successfully propagated without the use of rooting hormone, it does increase the chances of the cutting succeeding.
Place the cutting in a glass of fresh water or a small container filled with fresh compost. If you are rooting in water remember to change the water every day. After a while you will see new roots emerging from the bottom of the cutting.
As long as cuttings placed in the soil appear healthy then you can assume the cutting is successful. To check that roots are forming if your cutting is in the soil, gently pull the cutting. If you feel resistance it is a good indication that the plant is developing a root system.
Once a good set of roots has emerged, re-plant the cutting in a larger container filled with fresh soil.
Self-heading varieties can also be propagated from cuttings. They may also set out small plantlets. Once the plantlets reach a decent size they can be cut from the plant and potted on.
Use sterile garden scissors to remove the plantlets from the mother plant. Plant the plantlets in small containers filled with fresh, well draining soil and grow on as new plants. Care for the plantlets as you would a larger philodendron plant.
Propagation can be a slow process, taking up to two months. Don’t be disheartened if roots are slow to emerge. As long as the cutting remains healthy it is still alive.
Philodendron rarely flowers indoors. This makes propagation from seed impossible.
If you want to air layer this plant, you start by picking out a healthy stem that has no disease, discoloration, or damage from insects. Remove any leaves that are three to four inches above the leaf node on the stem.
Get a sterilized, sharp knife or shears and cut a one-inch, shallow slit into the stem vertically. Gently remove the outer layer of your stem all of the way around. Don’t sever the stem from your plant.
Carefully apply enough rooting compound to the exposed stem to cover it all of the way around the base where you cut. Cover this area with moist peat moss and secure it by wrapping it up in plastic wrap.
You want to fully seal it before you tie it off, and you should be able to see new roots through your pocket of peat moss. When you see them, you can cut the stem below the rooting area and put it into a four-inch pot with loose soil.
Easy to care for and surprisingly robust, the philodendron is an ideal houseplant for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
Growing Philodendron From Seed
It’s a very slow process to grow this plant from seed, and stem cuttings are a lot quicker. If you want to try it, get a six-inch pot to plant several seeds. Plant one seed in the pot every two inches in a rich soil at a ⅓-inch depth.
Cover your plant with plastic and make a point to remove it occasionally to let air flow through. Mist the soil to keep it moist, and you won’t have to soak it for them to germinate. The seeds take between two and eight weeks to germinate.
Your soil temperature has to stay between 68 and 73-degrees Fahrenheit for you to be successful. When the seeds sprout and get sturdy enough for you to handle without breaking them, move each one to a new pot to encourage strong root development.
If you don’t live in a tropical planting zone, you’ll have to overwinter your philodendron in the house. A lot of common houseplants and tropical species will do well inside when it gets colder out. They also adapt very quickly to the indoor conditions.
When the temperatures start to drop and the days get shorter, you’ll want to cut back on the watering. You should only water the plant when the top layer of soil feels dry to the touch.
You should also make a point to get pruners and cut away any long leggy stems or yellowing stems before you bring them indoors. Check for signs of decay, mold, or insectes before you bring them in for the season.
How to Tell the Difference Between Pothos and Philodendron
If you do a quick once-over it’s very easy for inexperienced gardeners to mix up a heart leaf philodendron and a pothos. They both offer pretty heart-shaped foliage that is glossy and green, and both plants have a vine growth habit.
They both are beautiful if you have them draping or trailing over things, and they do well in a hanging pot or climbing up a trellis. However, there are a few key differences.
Both plants will grow smaller aerial roots that help them climb. However, the roots on the pothos plants are very thick, and you’ll get one root per node where the petiole and leaf attach to the stem.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the roots on the heart leaf philodendron are a lot thinner, and it’s common to see two or more roots per node.
Leaf Shape and Texture
The leaves on the vining philodendron and pothos are slightly heart shaped. However, the philodendron leaf is wider. If you look where the stem and leaf connect, the philodendron’s leaf has a more dramatic curve like the top of a heart.
Pothos generally have much thicker and more waxy leaves than you’ll get on the heart shaped philodendron.
You also have to consider how new leaves grow from each plant. New leaves on the pothos plant will be very tightly curled before slowly unfurling over time. You’ll get a lighter version of a mature leaf that gets darker as it ages.
New leaves on the philodendron plant come encased in sheaths. Once the leaves mature and open, the sheath will dry up and fall off. A small philodendron leaf has a yellow or pink tint to it, and it slowly turns green as it ages.
These are mini stems that connect the main stems to the leaves on the plant. A petiole on a philodendron is rounded and a petiole on a pothos is curved inwards and indented. It looks a little like a celery stalk.
Both plants are in the Araceae family, but you’ll find a key difference if you break them down further. Philodendrons belong to the Philodendron genus while Pothos comes from the Epipremnum genus.
A lot of pothos varieties like neon pothos, golden pothos, and jade pothos all belong to the epipremnum aureum species. The botanical name for the popular heart leaf philodendron is philodendron hederaceum.
Along with the green heart leaf philodendron, you should keep an eye out for philodendron brasil. This plant has a lime green stripe down the middle to make it very visually striking.
Philodendron is an incredibly popular houseplant. It is also endlessly fascinating. One of the most interesting things about the philodendron plant is that its foliage color changes as it ages. As well as its fascinating foliage, these are also easy to care for plants.
A pleasantly attractive philodendron is a great way to add color and interest to your home or work space.
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.